Thoughts On Burned Bridges

Sometimes, when we move on in our lives, we lash out at the thing we’re leaving behind. It’s a childish thing to do, but there are reasons why.

Perhaps we’re so vehement because we’re still trying to convince ourselves it’s the right thing to do, when deep down we know better.
Perhaps we’re trying to make the people around us happy.
Perhaps we’re trying to make going back such a humiliating climbdown that we could never countenance yielding to the temptation.

Whatever the reason, there are the times that we feel the need to burn the bridges and trample the charred remains underfoot. We burn the bridges to stop others following us over, and we burn them to stop ourselves crossing back. And we do it because we think we’re too weak to stick to our decision, one we often know to be wrong.

But every bridge had to be built in the first place. So no bridge can ever be burned so badly that it cannot be rebuilt.

…ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough…

After such a petulant, charged departure who can say what’s the other side of the bridge you could rebuild? And isn’t it always better to build than to burn? Stronger to discover what may be waiting than to hide from the fear of it? More courageous to acknowledge the mistakes and learn from them, than to angrily pretend no fault?

If you’ve burned a bridge you should take the brave, the courageous, the strong path and rebuild it – however hard it may seem. Cross over, find out what’s there. The worst that can happen is there’s nothing for you. But how is that worse than what you have now?

It’s out of character for me to burn bridges, to turn on something in my life. As you know I often choose the path that’s harder in the short term, to secure a less stressful long term. But I’ve burned a bridge, now I’m rebuilding it. It’ll be fascinating to discover what’s on the other side.

Do It Now

On The Subject Of Faith Schools

Raised again on BBC’s Question Time last month was the ever green subject of Faith Schools. Some years ago I wrote a piece debunking the arguments in favour of them. The issues and arguments haven’t changed, except to say that with Free Schools there are now greater opportunities to set up these schools.

But rarely do the proponents of Faith Schools ask the question “Why do they work?” They simply (and I do mean simply) ascribe the credit to the faith aspect and call for more of it!

On examination it transpires that there is no evidence that religious ethos has any positive influence on educational outcomes. Arguably, the local selective school should be performing better than average catholic schools, so one might make a good case for the religious ethos actually hampering outcomes.
The key is selection. Faith schools can select their intake. In practice this happens in two ways. Using the most available figures (those for Catholic Schools). The 33% of intake who make no religious claim to a place are selected from the local community on the basis of aptitude and ability. This might be a home culture of excellence as with many asian families or it might be on 11-plus results or primary teacher’s recommendations. However it remains that 33% are openly selected on old ‘Grammar school’ terms.
One would expect, under those circumstances, for them to outperform the other local school that cannot select and has to take everyone else.

What of the other 66%? Proponents imply that the 33% selective element is just making up the numbers where local catholic families have moved away, but the numbers don’t back them up:
If a tenth of secondary schools are Catholic schools (as the catholic education service says), and two thirds of the intake claim to be Catholic, that suggests 6.5% of the population (3.9 million) are practicing Catholics. Yet even with the recent arrival of [non-school age] Polish Catholics there are fewer than 1 million weekly attendances at Catholic churches. As with many religions, more identify as Catholic, but without actually bothering with the inconvenient worshipping, confessing and getting up on Sunday morning aspects of being a Catholic.

These additional, apostate ‘lip-service’ catholics are claiming to maintain their adherence, when they patently do not. Could one of their motivations be to get their children a ‘bye’ into a high achieving school that academically selects 33% of its intake?

It means that of the 66% who claim to be catholic, perhaps a quarter (17%) actually attend church. The remainder come from families that might have a parent or grandparent who attends (and so are apostate themselves) or are from families who are simply pretending.

The will to pretend, to masquarade a religious belief, to get into the local (effectively) grammar school is not so strange when the local de facto grammar outperforms the local secondary modern. Who wouldn’t try it on for their children? Anyone prepared to commit to this charade is demonstrating a commitment to their child’s education. So either the children or the parents are displaying a characteristic of likely future achievement.

This means that 83% of the intake are selected on academic grounds or on other indicators of achievement ethos.

It is this selection that has the most marked effect on a child’s education. Not the religious ethos of the school. Again, it is worth comparing the outcomes of openly selective schools with the covertly selective faith schools. Faith schools don’t fare well on the comparison. So the evidence might actually be for the faith element to be counter productive to outcomes.

Whatever arguments people put into this debate, a few facts remain:

  1. The faithful feel a need to privilege themselves and immerse their offspring in an environment where their faith is ‘normal’. Without this their faiths would be dying even faster than they are.
  2. No other discrimination of this kind would be tolerated by our society: schools with an open political bias (marxist schools, fascist schools…), schools with an open gender bias (male supremacist schools), schools with an open race bias (asian only schools, white only schools). The list goes on.
  3. The state should not tolerate the subversion of education establishments to indoctrinate. Only secular schools avoid this indoctrination because…
  4. …Secular schools don’t expose children to, or endorse, atheism, they just don’t expose them to and privilege a specific superstitious or political worldview and tell kids, or imply to them that they’re true.
  5. Faith schools are de facto selective schools, that’s why they don’t flourish in Bucks and Kent, where there are proper selective schools.

In fact the whole argument is not one for faith schools, but one for selective schools when ‘God’ is the price you’re prepared to pay to get what amounts to a grammar place.

Well, not the whole argument: Adherents talk about what to tell children with regard to death, and say that they don’t want to expose their child to atheism yet.

Secular schools don’t expose children to atheism, they just don’t expose them to nonsense and fairy tales and tell them that they’re true. They don’t advocate an atheist position any more than they advocate a christian, jewish or satanist one. The only position they do advocate, when they are pressed to, is that they ‘dogmatically’ don’t take a position. In view of this they aren’t ‘exposing your child to atheism’.

As for what to tell children about death: The truth. At worst the truth can be “No one knows, you must make up your own mind.” Which is what I, as an atheist told my children. Certainly there is no need to speak of ‘heaven’ as if it were objective truth.

In this matter the truth can also be a great thing. To realise that this life is what you have, how improbable you are and how wonderful it is. To know that this isn’t a rehearsal, this is the life you have, get on with it, enjoy it and make the best you can. Treat others well, and make sure you’re remembered well, because the only sure immortality is in the love and memory of others.

The pro-faith school stance, already de-bunked as based on a wish not to expose children to adult opinions on faith, has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with selection. I think the system, while perhaps useful in virtual monocultures is a disaster here, as in Northern Ireland potentially generating a degree of sectarianism, segregation, mistrust and ultimately social breakdown. We become a number of separate ‘communities’ occupying the same geographical space but only rarely interacting and then in a tribal atmosphere of mistrust and hostility. But unlike Northern Ireland, with more than just two protagonists.
How? Being sent to a ‘faith school’ results in the said faith permeating your education to a greater or lesser degree. That might be one end of the spectrum – teaching creationism and bible based thinking as ‘science’ – or the other end of the spectrum: a prayer of thanks before meals, an amateur sermon in assembly and a priest on the board of governors (specifically for his religious perspective rather than as a parent).
This not only means that faith intrudes into the lives of non-believers who attend, but also is presented as ‘normal’ and as something that young impressionable minds are exposed to by people their parents tell them to trust and respect.

At a secular school, religion plays no part. The school is not there to promote a non-faith agenda, nothing happens to argue or advocate against any faith or belief, other than the presentation of evidence based teaching. Even then, teachers don’t end explanations with comments like “So christians are wrong!” or “So jews can’t be right!”. The faithful have nothing to fear from a secular school. No opposing opinions will be pushed on their children.

Going to a secular school doesn’t intrude into your observance of your faith it simply removes faith from the sphere of education. You can still pursue your faith at home and expose your child to whatever fairy tales and imaginary friends you please. They can still say a prayer before lunch or an exam, they can even set up school religious societies if they wish, and meet at breaktime or lunchtime.

The only things the religious might possibly find problematic at a secular school are the presentation of objective evidence that specifically denies the possibility of your faith based position (for example Evolution in a science class denying the possibility of creationism). But then that would be because your faith based position is objectively wrong.

Alternatively you might object to the presentation of knowledge about several faiths including your own being delivered on an even par with each other. However I would suggest the only reason you might have concerns about that are because it would expose your faith as no different from any other (when considering its basis and ‘truth’).

But both these objections are based not on your fear of anti-faith propagandising but of your child seeing that the wizard is really just a man behind the curtain.

The secular school is, by definition, neutral to your beliefs, to my beliefs, to everyone’s beliefs. Why is that a problem for the religious? Why do they feel their children need to be brought up in an environment that privileges their faith over other points of view? Why do they fear an education that doesn’t actively promote their faith?

[Originally posted on Fifth Donkey]

The CCTV Myth

CCTV prevents crime.

That’s the justification. After all, if you’re being watched you’ll behave, won’t you? And if you know all the bad guys are being watched, you know you’re safe, don’t you?

But it’s a myth. It’s simply nonsense.

Want my evidence? How many times have you heard on the news “The police are examining CCTV footage for clues,” or “The [criminal] was caught with the help of CCTV,” Or something similar? Think of all that footage on Crimewatch, Police Camera Action! or YouTube of people robbing shops, mugging people or driving too fast.┬áThe truth is that CCTV has become so ubiquitous that it’s either ignored or assumed to be a dummy camera. Criminals will still commit crime right in front of a real camera for us all to see. Tat’s just what happened every time you see the footage, or the police are examining the footage. Every time. What was preventative about that?

So does CCTV achieve anything?

What CCTV does do very effectively is give people a false sense of security. I wonder how many times people have said something like: “Of course it’s okay to take that shortcut at 1am, theres a CCTV camera covering the car park, no one will attack/mug/rape me in front of that.” Shortly before the police have to examine the footage?

Famously, we have more CCTV in the UK than any other country. What is its outcome? A detective force that is reliant upon it for their work, rather than on traditional detective work. We have a traffic police focussed primarily on speeding, because that’s what GATSO’s detect, rather than on the greater problem of bad driving. We have a population wandering around in a fog of false security.

But we still have crime. Right before our (electric) eyes.


[Originally posted on Fifth Donkey]

A Quick Commons Reform

At the time of writing there are a number of MPs in the House who have resigned their whip to face various charges. Most recently, joining their number this morning Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock.He has resigned his whip, but not his seat, to fight allegations of sexual assault without causing his party any embarrassment in the meantime.

That’s an admirable position, and assuming he’s innocent, (which we must) there’s no reason for him to lose his job (at least not before the next election). If he’s cleared of all charges then there’s no reason at all for him not to continue in his career.


While he’s fighting these quite serious charges, he’s not likely to be able to acquit his role as a constituency MP to the standard his constituents ought to be able to expect.

So how to square this circle: He shouldn’t have to resign and lose his job, career and prospects over what may turn out to be entirely spurious, even malicious charge. If we were to expect MPs to resign their seat while they prove their innocence, then it’d become very easy to spitefully destroy an MP just by making an accusation. On the other hand, his constituents deserve an MP who will be focussed on them.

So how about this: Each party submits a list of perhaps half a dozen ‘deputies’ to a cross party committee. The committee can approve the list members (or not if there’s a solid reason). Should a circumstance arise where an MP is temporarily unable to do his or her job, perhaps through personal illness, compassionate leave or – as with today – fighting a criminal charge, one of the list members can be parachuted in as a temporary Deputy Member of Parliament.

Should it become apparent that the absence will become permanent, then a by-elections would be triggered in the usual way, the DMP being barred from standing (to prevent the mechanism being abused to ‘grandfather’ in new MPs). But should the MP be able to return to their seat, then the DPM would step aside and representation return to normal.


[Originally posted on Fifth Donkey]

The Voting Reform I’d Like

You’re in the polling booth and you really don’t support the mouse party or the dog party. You’ve never heard of the bird party, but hell, you really don’t want the cat party to win. Who do you vote for?

Many hundreds of column inches are expended on the problem of voter turnout and voter disengagement. The two are, of course, closely linked. The less engaged the voting public feel, the less likely they are to vote.

Lots of reasons are proposed and discussed but when I’m on the campaign phones the one that comes up more than all the others combined is “I won’t bother, because you’re all the same.” This appears to make it hard for people to feel passionate about supporting a particular party.

While I think having political parties that appear driven by different management ethos rather than different political ideologies is a problem (and entirely untrue, incidentally), I also think this is a red herring. Passion in politics is alive and well, it just isn’t directed positively. It’s easy to get people to be passionate against a party. Or an individual. Watch the news, read twitter accounts: there’s a lot of “Anybody but them!” going on.

It has always been thus, with tactical voting for instance: voting for the party most likely to beat the one you dislike the most. So why not make this a real, tangible part of our system.

If you don’t feel passionately in favour of a party, but feel passionately against one, why not have a system where you can choose to cast a negative vote instead of a positive one?

Picture it:

You’re in the polling booth and you really don’t support the mouse party or the cat party. You’ve never heard of the bird party, but hell, you really don’t want the dog party to win. Who do you vote for?

Tactical voting has you deciding which of the mouse, cat or bird party has the best chance of beating the dogs. But why not simply vote against the dog?

It’d be illuminating. As it stands, many MPs are elected with deceptive majorities and feel this is a mandate. But often it’s just a default victory. With minus votes, a newly elected MP would have a real sense of the level of support they have in the constituency. “Hmmm, I got 17,000 in favour and 6,500 against. I still won, but look how many really didn’t want me.” Perhaps they’d work to build their positive vote, perhaps they’d work to win over all the negative votes.

Some candidates would poll a negative figure. That’s a very quick and simple way to see who should lose their deposit. More people didn’t want you than did. Bye-Bye deposit.

But it might also, ironically, focus people’s minds on what they do want, and on who is really the bad guy on the ballot paper. Do you really hate the Labour or Conservative candidate more than the BNP candidate? Really? Do you really want to vote for the Liberal Democrat more than you want to stop the EDL option? Really?

Perhaps when people say “Anybody but Them!” They’d pause for though if there was the chance that the ‘Anybody’ they end up with might be Nick Griffin! Perhaps, just perhaps, they’d start thinking about what they do want, not what their lifelong reflex says they don’t want.

Then again, perhaps not. But it’d still be great fun on election night seeing a high profile candidate’s majority wiped out by minus votes.


[Originally posted on Fifth Donkey]

Scotland, Europe and Independence

An idea that doesn’t seem to have seen the light of day so far.

We have a couple of referendums coming up: One in Scotland over independence from the UK, and another UK-wide over independence from Europe.

A couple of things occur:

1. Shouldn’t we count the European referendum twice, once with Scottish votes and once without?

If Scotland vote to cede from the UK, they should, of course, be allowed to go. But what if Scottish votes tipped the balance in an In/Out referendum to stay in? Why should the rest of the UK have its destiny effected by a country that isn’t going to be part of the UK anymore? Of course, if Scotland votes to stay within the UK, then Scottish voter’s opinions on EU membership for the UK is as relevant as every other voter.

2. We know Alex Salmond wants an independent Scotland to remain in the EU. Of course, a number of other countries in the EU have their own regional independence issues and will discourage the Grandfathering of newly split nations to discourage their own separatists.

If Scotland voted to leave the UK, and the UK (excluding Scottish votes) voted to leave the EU, perhaps we could all get together and negotiate the UK’s membership to be inherited not by the remainder of the UK, but by Scotland?


[Originally posted on Fifth Donkey]